“Hey, look, Dad, there’s a German shorthaired pointer that looks just like our German shorthair, only smaller and calmer.”The speaker was Robby Benson as he toured the gun dog show during the 2018 Pheasant Fest in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“Wait a second,” Robby said. “The sign here says Braque Francais, which translates into French Pointer.”
Brad Boisen, the man with the Braque Francais gun dogs, replied, “Yes, these are French pointers.” Boisen has been hunting with and raising French pointers for 20 years.
And, yes, these French pointers from a distance may look like small German shorthairs, but they are an entirely separate breed of gun dog. Boisen then went on to explain the differences.
“Well, though the French pointer does look like the German shorthaired pointer, it is not a miniature version of that breed,” he stated. Here are the main differences, according to Boisen.
Size, Temperament & Style
“Starting more than a hundred years ago, gamebird hunters in France began to develop a gun dog with short hair, a sturdy body build, a good nose, an intense search pattern, a natural retrieving instinct and a high degree of biddability,” Boisen says. “Most important, these hunters wanted a gun dog with a temperament that encouraged cooperation in the field and at home. The result of these efforts is today’s Braque Francais, or French Pointer.
“Though this description could apply to the German shorthair, there are three major differences between the German shorthair and the French pointer,” Boisen continues. “The first of these is the size factor, with the larger German shorthair averaging three to four inches taller and ten to fifteen pounds heavier. As the thinking goes, the French pointer, because of its smaller size, can run more efficiently in the field without lugging around the extra bulk and weight.
“The second factor is the difference in temperament, with the German shorthair often seen as high-strung, nervous and anxious, while the French pointer is often described as more laid-back, easy-going and relaxed.”
The third factor is hunting style, with the typical German shorthair running on the outside edge of shotgun range. The French pointer, on the other hand, has been bred to stay closer to the gun.
After listening to Boisen’s condensed opinion of the unique features of the French pointer, I asked if there was a chance to see some of these dogs in action.
“Sure, come to my hunting lodge just northwest of Mitchell, SD in early April, where our Braque Francais Club will have a United Kennel Club hunt test,” he said. “There will be 20-plus Braques there, a dozen handlers, and three UKC judges who will appraise the Braques for conformation, evaluate them for natural hunting ability and test them for advanced hunting skills.
So, here it is early April and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck next to a 250-acre field of CRP full of dried up prairie grass. I am here to watch French pointers that are running in a United Kennel Club (UKC) hunt test.
Next to me is Fred, a four-year-old French pointer imported from France by Brad Boisen. Fred’s head is resting on my knee while I pet him and scratch his ears. Fred is totally relaxed with his eyes half closed. If Fred was a cat, he would probably be purring.
Outside the truck there is a sudden commotion of dogs, dog handlers and dog judges, all in pursuit of a small flock of pheasants that had just flushed from the edge of the field and flown out into the middle of the prairie grass. The plan is to take one dog, one handler and one judge to head toward the pheasants’ landing spot where the dog will be tested for its ability to follow running birds, and if they stop, point them. The dog is scored for its ability to locate and point the birds in a fifteen-minute time frame. When a pheasant is flushed, a shot is fired and the dog is expected to be steady to wing and shot.
Meanwhile, back in the truck, Fred had dozed off, and I’m wondering if a dog this mellow and laid-back could be much of a hunter. But then a shot is fired and Fred immediately leaps to attention, sees a rooster fly over the truck and jumps through the open window before I can stop him.
The ringneck lands in the weeds along a fence line, and Fred quickly follows him. Thirty-five feet from where the bird went down, Fred slams into a solid point.
I walk over to where Fred is waiting and flush the rooster, which this time flies over a hill and out of sight. Fred wants to follow him but doesn’t after I say, “Fred, no. Leave it.”
Fred and I walk back to the truck where I put him into a dog crate where the hunting dog probably should have been in the first place.
A couple of hours later back at Boisen’s lodge I tell the story of Fred. Brad and one of the judges smile and say: “You’ve given a good illustration of why we like the Braque Francais, and why some of us have switched from German shorthairs to the French pointers.
“Though most of us still admire the German shorthair for its intense prey drive, we prefer the French pointer size and temperament in the house and on a hunt and appreciate the hunting style of these dogs in the field.”
“Braque Francais breeders in North America need to develop a wider and deeper gene pool for their lines,” says Ned Bartlet, who has owned and bred these gun dogs for 20-plus years.
“Though this breed has been growing in popularity in this country, there is a need for more genetic diversity,” Bartlet maintains. “And this is something that can be done by going to France to benefit from the broad base of Braques that have been in the breeding system for a century. But this must be done carefully.”
When Wade Landreville first saw a French pointer at work in a field, he was very impressed. “I liked the smaller size, the cooperative temperament, and the strong tendency to stay close to the gun,” he recalls. “I was, however, advised to be careful when I asked about getting a Braque Francais by going France to find one.
“I was told to do my homework by making personal connections with French breeders who have high scores on their dogs in hunt tests and field trials. And I was told to get references from puppy buyers.”
Landreville did his homework and imported a well-bred pup who he named Ron. “This French pointer turned out to be the best hunting dog I ever owned,” Landreville says. “Ron got a perfect score in NAVHDA Natural Ability and Utility and in 2008 he became the first Braque Francais to become a Versatile Champion and one of two that now have the VC title.”
Landreville used Ron as a stud dog and produced about 40 puppies with female French pointers, all from North America. “Most of the pups were very good though not great,” he says. “So I decided to import a French female. I made a personal connection with an officer in the French breeding club who assured me that he had some of the best Braques in Europe.”
“To make a long story short, however, the dog I got from him, for no apparent reason, wouldn’t hunt. The guy never offered to replace the pup or to refund my money. The moral of this story is, always do your homework.”
“More Braque Francais need to be hunt tested in the formal programs offered by the United Kennel Club and North America Versatile Hunting Dog Association,” says Paul Phillips from Springfield, Missouri.
“In the NAVHDA records from 1969 to 2018, for example, 139 Braque Francais were tested in Natural Ability and Utility, as opposed to 13,034 German shorthairs during that same period. And though the French pointer passing scores were 78 percent compared to the German shorthair’s 82 percent, the difference in total participation shows more French pointers need to be involved.”
“For anyone wanting a Braque Francais puppy, I would recommend choosing NAVHDA parents and I would encourage anyone wanting to breed French pointers to hunt test them in UKC and NAVHDA,” Phillips says.
Thoughts on Training
“In comparing the French pointer to the German shorthair, I won’t say one breed is better than the other. But I will say the two breeds are different,” notes Ed Erickson, a full-time dog trainer who has trained both breeds for many years.
“Both breeds are similar in that the pups of each breed usually are born with a precocious instinct for searching, pointing, tracking and retrieving game birds. And both breeds have a natural affinity for water work.
“But while both breeds are relatively easy to train at a young age, the French pointer has a more sensitive temperament, which means it probably won’t accept the high pressure training methods acceptable to a German shorthair,” Erickson feels. “For example, most of the French pointers don’t do well with forced retrieve training that involves the ear pinch, the toe squeeze or the use of an e-collar. Therefore, the owners of French pointers rely more on the breed’s natural retrieving instincts.”
“Yes, the Braque Francais is a separate breed of gun dog even though this French pointer shares traits with the German shorthaired pointer,” is the most common answer when asked if the Braque Francais is just a miniature version of the German shorthair, according to Brad Boisen.
“Ask this question of most any owner and hunter and breeder of the Braque Francais and the vast majority will concur with this answer, giving a variety of what they feel are substantial and plausible reasons to support their opinions,” Boisen says.
“I have Gertie, a five-year-old German shorthair, and Sioux, a three-year-old French pointer, and I always hunt them together,” says Sarah Suderman from Bismarck, North Dakota. “When we’re after pheasants and prairie grouse in the western part of our state, Gertie, with her long legs and 62-pound body, tends to range wide and far in the field. And Sioux, at 48 pounds and about four inches shorter, stays up closer so that both dogs thoroughly cover a lot of territory.
“I do use an e-collar on Gertie to keep her under control and in gun range sometimes, but generally, both dogs produce a lot of birds so that my boyfriend’s hunting buddies often would rather follow us than their own Labradors or springer spaniels.
“At home, Gertie used be a nervous and anxious handful in the house when someone would ring the doorbell or a cat walked through the backyard. But Sioux now calms her down by being more easy-going and laid back.
“Just as in the field or a hunt, at home they are a good combination of breeds that ideally complement each other.”